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Your Guide to Leafy Greens: 18 Green Leafy Vegetables to Use More Often

by Tori Schmitt, MS, RDN, LD

Let’s have fun with a simple nutrition exercise: grab a piece of paper and a pencil or start a note on your phone.  Think about what you ate in the last week.  Write down all the vegetables you ate.  Now, go back through the list.  Add a star to the vegetables that are green and leafy. How many leafy green vegetables have you starred?  Just one?  Five?  Ten? 

Whatever number you have listed – for total vegetables or for the total number of leafy green vegetables – you probably already know that all vegetables, including leafy greens, are nutritious!

Vegetables offer vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients, all while being relatively low in calories.  Science shows that vegetables are helpful for your health!  In particular, research suggests that higher consumption of leafy greens is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and several types of cancer.(1-3)  Yet, many people aren’t eating enough vegetables!  And, as a dietitian, I find that not only aren’t people eating enough vegetables but they’re also not getting a wide variety of leafy green vegetables either.

Let’s change that!  With these nutrition facts and recipe ideas, we hope that you’ll feel confident and ready to enjoy a wider variety of leafy green vegetables.  No more coming home from the grocery store asking the question, “What do I do with this?”  This helpful chart has you covered!  Print it out, post it on your refrigerator and refer to it often as a reminder to eat a wide variety of leafy greens regularly.

Nutrition Facts for Leafy Greens & How To Use Leafy Greens:

Leafy Green

Food & Nutrition Facts

How To Use Leafy Greens

GREENS: BroccoLeaf

One serving of BroccoLeaf is an excellent source of vitamin A vitamin C, and vitamin K and a good source of folate and potassium.

Add your favorite leafy greens into a smoothie – they’ll lend great nutrition and contribute a vibrant green flavor.  Spinach, kale, and BroccoLeaf are easy to add – like in this BroccoLeaf Berry Smoothie.

GREENS: Collard Greens

Collard greens are home to calcium, vitamin A, vitamin K, and folate plus phytonutrients lutein and zeaxanthin.

Use a large collard green leaf as a wrap in place of a tortilla when you’re looking for more vegetables at a meal!  Consider this recipe for a California Wrap with Creamy Lime Dressing – both BroccoLeaf or collard greens can be used as your wrap!

GREENS: Mustard greens

Mustard greens offer calcium, iron, potassium, and folate plus vitamins A, C, and K.

Add leafy greens – like mustard greens – into your next stir-fry!  Their flavor is bold and slightly spicy, which pairs nicely with flavors from other stir-fry ingredients like ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil.  Check out this healthy stir-fry dressing recipe for inspiration!

CHARD: Green chard

Swiss chard offers vitamins A, C, and K, and minerals potassium and manganese.

When one leafy green is called for in a recipe, you can easily sub in another.  Take, for example, the recipe for these Fiery Baked Eggs with Swiss Chard – the red chard can easily be substituted for green chard. 

CHARD: Red chard

Swiss chard offers vitamins A, C, and K, and minerals potassium and manganese.

Add red chard to a salad with a variety of other textures and flavors, like in this Red Chard and Watermelon Salad with slivered almonds, creamy feta cheese, snappy red onion, and sweet watermelon. 

CHARD: Rainbow chard

Swiss chard offers vitamins A, C, and K, and minerals potassium and manganese.

Make a simple sauté with olive oil, garlic, and other herbs or spices.  Find inspiration for how to make a Simple Sauté here. 

HERBS: Parsley

Vitamin A, C, and K, folate, and iron can all be found within parsley.

Add chopped parsley to homemade or store-bought salad dressings for more flavor and nutrition, or combine parley with grains and vegetables like in this Quinoa and Roasted Vegetable Salad.

HERBS: Cilantro

Cilantro delivers some vitamin K, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

Blend the citrus-like taste of cilantro with citrus foods like oranges as done in this Citrus Cabbage Salad recipe.

KALE: Green kale

Kale offers vitamins A, B6, C, and K and minerals like manganese and potassium.

Sauté green kale in a skillet with olive oil or with other moist ingredients to allow it to get tenderer.  Eat sautéed green kale alone or as the base of a warmed protein, like in this recipe for Lemon-Dijon Chicken Thighs with Kale and Leek Sauté.

KALE: Red kale

Kale offers vitamins A, B6, C, and K and minerals like manganese and potassium.

Chop kale and add to a savory whole-grain salad or bowl, like this Warm Barley Salad with Red Kale.

KALE: Lacinato kale

Kale offers vitamins A, B6, C, and K and minerals like manganese and potassium.

Massage lacinato kale with your hands like you would knead dough to soften the leaves before eating it (or use tongs).  Try this Southwestern Lacinato Kale Salad for practice!  Or, use lacinato kale to make kale chips – simply trim and discard the stem and center rib, cut into “chip”-like pieces, drizzle with olive oil, and roast on a sheet pan in the oven at 300°F for 20 minutes or until edges begin to brown. 

LETTUCE: Iceberg

Iceberg lettuce offers some vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, and manganese. 

Use iceberg 1-inch thick lettuce cheeks to make lettuce “buns” for your favorite sandwich, like this Jerk Chicken Sandwich on Iceberg Lettuce Buns.  Or, prepare a Classic Wedge Salad

LETTUCE: Green leaf

Vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K can all be found within green leaf lettuce. 

Top your favorite sandwich or wrap with green leaf lettuce – not just one leaf, but many!  Pile it high! 

LETTUCE: Red leaf

Red leaf lettuce is home to vitamin A and vitamin K – and it delivers some iron, manganese, and folate, too.

Toss tender, red leaf lettuce leaves with strawberries, beets, onions, and homemade dressing like in this Strawberry Golden Beet Salad.

LETTUCE: Romaine leaf

Romaine lettuce offers vitamins A and K, as well as some fiber, folate, and vitamin C.

Crispy romaine lettuce holds up well against warm foods like grilled proteins and roasted vegetables, like in this Roasted Broccoli Chicken Caesar Salad

LETTUCE: Romaine hearts

Romaine lettuce offers vitamins A and K, as well as some fiber, folate, and vitamin C.

Grilling is a breeze with romaine hearts.  The hearts are crunchy and packed tightly together, which makes cooking them whole easy!  Try these Grilled Romaine Hearts with Chili-Lime Shrimp.

DANDELIONS: Red dandelions

Dandelion greens offer vitamins A and K, plus some vitamin C, calcium, and iron. 

Whether in soups, smoothies, or sautéed meals, dandelion greens deliver a tender texture and bitter flavor.  You can also add these to your eggs or to create homemade pesto!

SPINACH

Spinach delivers vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, and folate. 

Add spinach to your smoothie bowl (like this Citrus Green Smoothie Bowl) or your favorite egg dishes (like this Crustless Broccoli Quiche).


Leafy greens can taste good, can be easily incorporated into other dishes that you like, and can contribute numerous vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to support your health.

Now, let’s complete another simple nutrition exercise.  Get that piece of paper or those notes in your phone back out!  What new-to-you leafy greens will you pick up next time you’re at the grocery store?  Write them down!  How will you use them?  If you want to eat more vegetables – and, in particular, more leafy greens – you’ve got to start with a plan!

What will you do to eat more leafy greens?  Share your plans with us on Facebook @FoxyProduce and @YESNutritionLLC – we can’t wait to see what you’ll be eating!


References:

  1. Wang PY, Fang JC, Gao ZH, Zhang C, Xie SY. Higher intake of fruits, vegetables or their fiber reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes: A meta-analysis. J Diabetes Investig. 2016;7(1):56–69. doi:10.1111/jdi.12376
  2. Pollock RL. The effect of green leafy and cruciferous vegetable intake on the incidence of cardiovascular disease: A meta-analysis. JRSM Cardiovasc Dis. 2016;5:2048004016661435. Published 2016 Aug 1. doi:10.1177/2048004016661435
  3. Boffetta P, Couto E, Wichmann J, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and overall cancer risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC).J Natl Cancer Inst. 2010 Apr 21; 102(8):529-37.

 

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